Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Regular screening with a Pap test and HPV vaccination can find pre-cancerous cells and treat them before they become cancer.
The Pap test looks for signs of abnormal cells in the cervix, including spotting or bleeding that doesn’t seem normal and an unusual vaginal discharge. Some risk factors for cervical cancer include pregnancy, having a caesarean section, and being HIV positive.
Often, cervical cancer develops slowly and does not produce symptoms for several years. However, it is still important to see your doctor if you have any new or unusual symptoms or signs.
Pap test: Health care professionals use this test to examine cells from the cervix for signs of precancerous or cancerous changes. Early detection gives a person a better chance of being treated before the cells have a chance to turn into cancer.
A medical professional may also do a pelvic ultrasound and blood tests to look for a spread of cervical cancer. In some cases, they will perform a large loop excision procedure or cone biopsy to remove tissue from the cervix for examination. These procedures are done under local anesthetic. These types of surgical procedures are likely to affect a woman’s ability to have children, depending on the stage of the cancer and the type of treatment. The lower the stage of the cancer, the higher the chance of being able to have children.
Cervical cancer starts in cells on the surface of the cervix, the lower part of your uterus. These cells sometimes change and become precancerous.
The Pap test finds these cells, and often they can be removed or destroyed before they turn into cervical cancer. This is why routine Pap tests are important.
A woman’s risk for cervical cancer increases with age and with her family history of the disease. Other risk factors include a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or genital warts, smoking, and HIV infection.
The HPV virus, which most people get at some time in their lives, can cause changes on the cervix that lead to cervical cancer. The vaccine against HPV reduces the risk of getting these changes and prevents cancer. The risk of cervical cancer is also higher in women who have had multiple children and a woman who has had a hysterectomy or removal of the uterus. These women should be screened more frequently.
Cervical cancer is much less common than it used to be thanks to screening and the HPV vaccine. But the disease can still strike, and the earlier precancerous cells or cancer are detected, the more likely they are to be prevented or cured.
A Pap test collects cells from the cervix and tests them for signs of precancerous or cancerous changes. It is recommended that most women get a routine Pap test at least once every three years. Some people, such as those with a suppressed immune system (due to HIV infection, an organ transplant or long-term use of steroids), those who have a history of cervical cancer or a family history of the disease, may need more frequent testing.
CDC works to educate and encourage women to visit their doctor regularly for regular gynecologic exams, including a Pap test. Women who have a low income and those in medically underserved areas can receive free or low-cost gynecologic health care services and access to the HPV vaccine through CDC’s Vaccine for Children program.
The earlier precancerous cells or cervical cancer is found, the more likely it can be prevented or cured. Regular Pap tests are an important way to find these problems, as are HPV testing and biopsy.
Many women have no symptoms with early cervical cancer, but it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have pain or other changes. For example, pelvic pain that isn’t related to your menstrual cycle or is spreading throughout the pelvic area could be a sign of cancer.
After you’re diagnosed, doctors use a system called staging to describe how far the cancer has spread. This information helps your doctor choose the best treatment.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. There are also drugs, such as bevacizumab (Avastin), that block the growth of blood vessels that help cancer cells grow and survive. The type of treatment you have depends on your stage of cancer, age and other factors. Your doctor will explain your options.